Read this post and learn:

  • Three reasons for top management team (TMT) structure development: instrumental, institutional, and instructionalist
  • The interplay of formal and informal structures: competing vs. complementary dynamics
  • It is not only a specific role but also the overall configuration of TMT roles that matters

How to structure a top management team (TMT) is critical for the strategic leadership of an organization. The roles of senior executives and the relationships among these roles shape how executives work together as a group in directing an organization and shaping its strategy. In reality, organizations vary widely in how they structure their TMTs, even when they operate in the same industry. There are also societal level changes to TMT structure over the last decades, such as the diffusion of new roles (e.g., Chief Digital Officer) and the disappearance of other roles (e.g., Chief Marketing Officer). These phenomena raise intriguing questions for strategy researchers: How does TMT role structure emerge, function, and change? How does TMT role structure affect strategy and organization outcomes?

In a recent article published in the Strategic Management Journal (co-authored by Shenghui Ma, Yasemin Kor, and David Seidl), the authors addressed these important questions. Drawing on key contributions from recent research, the authors developed a framework elaborating the main themes of TMT role structure and outlined promising directions for future research. Here are some of the key takeaways:

  1. Three reasons for TMT structure development: instrumental, institutional, and interactionalist

Our review of the literature reveals three different conceptualizations of TMT roles, which suggest distinctive reasons for why a particular TMT role structure emerges and changes. One of them is the instrumental understanding of TMT roles where the roles are viewed as structural designs to meet specific requirements of strategic decision-making and directing of the organization. Other scholars have adopted an institutional understanding of TMT roles in which the roles are viewed as a reflection of institutionalized expectations. In this reasoning, companies adopt specific executive roles in their senior leadership team in order to obtain legitimacy. Yet, other researchers have alluded to an interactionist understanding of TMT roles. Instead of assuming TMT members behave according to their prescribed formal roles, they see TMT roles as the result of ongoing interactions and negotiations among TMT members.

  1. The interplay of formal and informal structures: competing vs. complementary dynamics

Current research focuses predominantly on formal role structure such as adoption of specific formal roles (e.g., the role of Chief Strategy Officer) and the overall configuration of different TMT roles (e.g., structuring roles by different business areas rather than corporate functions). The informal role structure, such as informal roles and working relationships, however, has received much less attention despite its high importance. Our review reveals that, on the one hand, informal role structure can complement the formal structure in strategic decision making by providing the TMT with additional competence or enhancing TMT collaboration; on the other hand, it can compete with the formal structure for power and influence, resulting in conflict and other negative outcomes. By accounting for both the formal and informal aspects of role structure and the dynamics of their interplay, we can develop a deeper understanding of how TMT role structure emerges, changes, and functions.

  1. It is not only a specific role but also the overall configuration of TMT roles that matters.

We find that while TMT role structure has been linked to various outcomes (e.g., TMT behavior, strategic choice, and firm performance), existing studies have typically focused on the impact of individual positions in isolation (e.g., COO, CSO). However, it is not just the individual impact of one position that matters, but the relevance and complementarity of all TMT roles as a bundle and how such bundle meets the firm’s needs and strategic and institutional demands. Likewise, it is not just the configuration of the role structure but also its orchestration (management) that matters to the outcomes of the role structure.


Ma, S., Kor, Y. Y., & Seidl, D. (2021). Top management team role structure: A vantage point for advancing upper echelons research. Strategic Management Journal, 1–28.


Shenghui Ma is Associate Professor of Business Administration at the School of Management, Fudan University, China.

Yasemin Kor is Beckwith Professor of Management Studies at Cambridge Judge Business School, University of Cambridge, U.K.

David Seidl is Professor and Chair of Organization and Management at the Department of Business Administration, University of Zurich, Switzerland.

Published Date
05 May 2022

Article Type
Article Summary/Abstract


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